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Worf Had the Flu

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"It was an opponent Nanoha wouldn't have had any problem protecting her allies from or defeating if she had been her usual self. But the strain of overexerting herself made Nanoha less capable, and her body slowed down at a crucial moment. The result... was this."

This is the specific rationalization that an otherwise powerful character suffering from The Worf Effect or a Curb-Stomp Battle did so only because something (artificially) undermined their performance. The insinuation, of course, is that it probably wouldn't have happened this way under "normal" circumstances. It may or may not be a fandom-based Author's Saving Throw.

This is often used within fandom, and can be a satisfying answer for fans bothered by the outcome of the battle or use of the trope itself. As the 'flu' is generally pulled from something within the story, explicit or otherwise, it does not necessarily require a blatant Retcon or Canon Discontinuity — the event itself is still treated as canonical. Note, however, the new reason may not officially be, except as a passing Ascended Fanon by some writers.

Whether or not a later matchup is provided becomes irrelevant. If enough ire is raised from using the Worf Effect, a later matchup may be specifically avoided to dodge any mention of it at all. On the other extreme, the response to the trope may be too loaded with Take That! overtones not to come off as petty. In contrast, a well-written Evasive Fight-Thread Episode often includes 'flu' logic in an effort to quell any complaints about the match-up. Essentially the "Power Seep" part of Power Creep, Power Seep.

Having the Flu doesn't necessary mean a character suddenly becomes weak and easy to defeat. In some cases, particularly if the character is The Dreaded or a Hero Killer, having the Flu simply makes them beatable. They might still be dangerous threats, and their opponents might just barely win.

This Flu is also often exploited by a nasty Big Bad Wannabe in order to have a shot to kill those powerful people, through luck mostly. Of course, defeating those who had flu doesn't mean you are that trope. With planning and exploiting this 'Flu', one can avoid being labeled of that trope. A true Blood Knight never takes on a Worthy Opponent who is suffering under such circumstances, as they typically wish to fight them in their full power.

A type of Drama-Preserving Handicap. Compare Actually a Doombot. Contrast Handicapped Badass, when they managed to win despite their flu. Compare with I Am Not Left-Handed when the flu is self-imposed. Compare Working Through the Cold when the character chooses to soldier on despite the handicap.


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    Audio Play 
  • Jan Tenner: Despite supposedly being the second best fighter of the Dark Empire, Thol lost every fair fight he fought. His only victories were against Logar after his daughter betrayed him weakening him to the point Thol could easily overpower him and when he and Jan fought for Logar's freedom and Jan accidently activated a serum in his veins from an experiment earlier that day which would have given him Super-Strength in his universe but made him weaker in the universe of the Dark Empire.

    Films — Animated 
  • The Ice Age Adventures of Buck Wild: Mama Rex is surely an indomitable ally against Orson’s army, right? Turns out, she has a bad toothache, so while she does still fight in the battle against Orson, she has a rather limited contribution.
  • Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay: Eobard Thawne/Professor Zoom is normally a villain with speed rivaling The Flash. Here, he only uses his speed sparingly, and when he does, he's barely fast enough to keep up with a car, allowing Badass Normal characters like Deadshot to fight him, which Deadshot comments on. Near the end, it is revealed that this is the same Eobard who got shot in the head by Thomas Wayne/Batman in Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox. He still has the gruesome hole in his head, and he is devoting most of his power and concentration to keeping himself alive. Eventually, Deadshot manages to shoot him several times in the torso, which makes him lose his concentration and die.
  • Toy Story 2: Invoked by Woody after his fight with Jessie, as an excuse for losing. He did lack one arm.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Thor in Avengers: Endgame. Thanos beats Thor in round 3 of their fight (the first two coming in Avengers: Infinity War). However, Thor isn't the chiseled fighter he usually was and while he obviously retains most if not all of his physical strength, he hasn't done any fighting for five years, whereas Thanos is at the peak of his abilities. If Thor had been at his peak, he would have demolished Thanos and his forces like he did previously in the climax of Infinity War.
  • In Captain America: Civil War, the young rookie superhero Peter Parker ultimately joins Tony Stark's pro-Registration forces at the climax, and manages to hold his own in combat against several experienced adult heroes during the battle at the airport. In the direct follow up, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Tony outright says at one point that he only let the underaged Peter join him during that battle because he knew that his old friend Steve Rogers would never seriously injure another hero, let alone a teenager. When Peter goes up against the experienced criminal Adrian Toomes— who has no such scruples—reality quickly ensues.
  • In Godzilla vs. Biollante, Godzilla began his rematch with Biollante after being infected by the Anti-Nuclear-Energy-Bacteria. Though he still puts up a valiant fight and forces her to retreat, his strength and stamina were clearly fading as the fight dragged on and his Atomic Breath was getting weaker with each use.
  • Godzilla vs. Kong: The director clarified that Godzilla's poor performance against Mechagodzilla was because Godzilla was exhausted after fighting Kong.
  • In Hellbound: Hellraiser II, many fans were disappointed to see Series villain Pinhead and his cronies taken out by the new Cenobite, Dr. Channard. Many have written off his easy defeat due to him being weakened and disoriented by learning he was once human, a notion supported by Hellbound screenwriter Peter Atkins.
  • Ip Man 2: Master Hung is able to fight evenly with Twister at first, but then he suffers an asthma attack, leaving him helpless as Twister beats him to death.
  • The Iron Man films do this several times.
    • The first has Tony's ARC reactor stolen by Obadiah Stane, forcing him to use his original, which doesn't have the output to support the Mk. III armor.
    • The sequel shows that the Mk. VI has high powered lasers that are only good for one use, which Tony uses to slice up some drones before Whiplash shows up.
    • In the third film, Mks. 1-7 are destroyed, he's unable to access Mks. 8-41, and Mk. 42 is a prototype that hasn't been fully tested yet.
  • In Kingsman: The Golden Circle, while Kingsman and Statesman are the British and American counterparts to each other, Statesmen agents do much better when they initially fight with Kingsmen operatives due to neither side being aware of the other at first. However, this can be justified as the only surviving Kingsmen are Eggsy, Harry Hart, and Merlin, who are left on the backfoot for reasons ranging from lack of experience to recovering from being shot in the head. During the final fight against Agent Whiskey, Harry is still recovering from his past injuries and Eggsy has just endured a brutal fight with Charlie, as well as both of them having just taken down an entire crime syndicate.
  • The drone on Tower 49 in Oblivion (2013). It's being repaired and doesn't have any armor plating, so despite drones being tough as nails, it gets shot down rather easily.
  • Predators: This happens when the "Classic" Predator similar to the ones from the old films faces the lead "Berserker" Predator from this movie. The Classic Predator has been tied up for a while and has poorly maintained equipment allowing for leeway when the new Predator wins the fight... but even with that all being said, he still puts up a hell of a fight.
  • Rocky:
    • Rocky III: Rocky loses to Clubber Lang in their first fight partially because Rocky had gotten overconfident and got out of shape from lack of training, partially because Rocky was emotionally compromised when his beloved trainer Mickey suffered a heart attack shortly before the match.
    • Mason Dixon in Rocky Balboa, though it's self inflicted. Forced into an exhibition match against the extremely aged Rocky, commentators note how he's extremely out of shape and not taking it seriously. Despite this he still dominates the early match... until he throws a sloppy punch and breaks his hand. This is all the opening Rocky needs to punish Mason hard, justifying how he can (almost) pull off a win.
  • Spider-Man: No Way Home: Peter, in the Iron Spider suit, loses his fight against Doctor Octopus because he was too focused on trying to save the MIT representative who was trapped in a car that was slowly rolling off a bridge.
  • Star Trek
    • In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the rather puny-looking Reliant sneak attacks the Enterprise and leaves the ship hobbling along for the rest of the movie, thus prolonging a confrontation that, under normal circumstances, would've resulted in the Enterprise mopping floors with the Reliant within about two minutes. Most of the crew being cadets didn't help, and Khan was smart enough to have studied the Enterprise in detail. It also doesn't help that Kirk was just a little too overconfident, thinking the Reliant being silent was nothing and not having shields raised.
    • This is also used to explain why a jury-rigged Enterprise in the following movie The Search for Spock is disabled by one hit from a "scout class" Bird-Of-Prey. Even the Klingon commander can't understand why he hasn't been blown to bits after his initial strike, saying the Enterprise outguns him ten to one.
    • Later, the far more advanced Enterprise-D almost gets blown out of space by an even clunkier Bird-Of-Prey in Star Trek: Generations, thanks to the Duras sisters getting their hands on their shield frequency (which apparently lets them tune their weapons to be able to fire through the shield). They also have access to whatever the Chief Engineer can see through his seeing device.
    • In the same film, the Enterprise-B was so new most of its equipment wouldn't be in until Tuesday, and was only being taken out for a spin for the sake of the news crews, hence its having such difficulty with what would normally be a simple rescue. Also, it turns out that Earth, the main planet of the Federation, had no other available ships, leaving the Enterprise as the only one in the sector.
  • Star Wars
    • In the novelization for Attack of the Clones, it's mentioned that Count Dooku is rested and fresh while Obi-Wan is exhausted from the Battle of Geonosis, which explains why the Jedi loses so badly to Dooku.
    • In The Force Awakens, Rey is able to hold her own and seriously injure Kylo Ren due to Ren's boltcaster wound slowing him down, his shoulder wound from Finn, and his mental turmoil over having just killed his father. In The Last Jedi, Snoke admonishes Ren for the latter factor causing this.
  • Underworld (2003): Amelia is touted as a powerful Elder, meaning she's meant to be stronger than a usual vampire, but gets shockingly killed with no fanfare when her train is ambushed. A flashback in Evolution shows that she normally is a powerful Lady of War, suggesting that her death was a result of the surprise of the attack in a closed space and being surrounded by council members rather than death dealers - Kraven specifically preventing the usual guard from meeting her so the Lycans could kill her.
  • Van Helsing: Anna Valerious, the film's Action Girl, becomes a Badass in Distress when Dracula's brides attack the village in Transylvania. She ends up in trouble so much because a) the vampires attacked in daylight before, which they have never done, specifically to catch her off guard, and b) she is their only target as the last living Valerious, and she spends a good amount of the scene trying to make sure the other villagers get to safety.
  • West Side Story (2021): In this version, Bernardo is a local boxer and has an up-and-coming career. He agrees to the rumble specifically so that he can fight Tony for dancing with Maria. However, their fight is not a boxing match, and Tony has no problem using other tactics to ultimately gain the upper hand against him. In addition, Bernardo was likely overconfident facing an opponent who initially refused to fight back.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • After he became NWA World Heavyweight Champion the first time, Lou Thesz had very few losses where that or any other title was on the line, he wasn't going into the match injured, and a rules lawyer was not in effect (Dick Hutton, Rikidozan, Gene Kiniski, El Canek, Dara Singh, about one memorable case for each decade!) and in one of the cases where he was injured the "loss" was technically a draw (Édouard Carpentier).
  • Buddy Rogers' explanation –- at least on television — for why he was crushed in his WWWF-title loss to Bruno Sammartino, in less than 48 seconds. Indeed, he supposedly had a legitimate heart attack not long before the match, but because no one associated with the match is still alive (Rogers and Sammartino respectively died in 1992 and 2018, and everyone else directly involved with the match died long before Sammartino) and because Kayfabe was strictly maintained, there's no way to know whether Rogers agreed to drop the title to allow his health to recover or if he was faking for some reason.
  • Just prior to the 1992 Royal Rumble, Intercontinental champion Bret Hart literally had the flu (or at least was booked as having one; nobody's really sure), one ranging near the 104 degree range. He lost the belt the night before the event to The Mountie, who then set the record for the shortest IC title reign without immediately losing it when he lost it to Roddy Piper one day later at the Rumble itself.
  • Masakatsu Funaki was well known to be a great fighter, but he had a knee injury prior to his fight with Rickison Grace, which his younger opponent was not afraid to exploit.
  • After coming to WWE, The Big Show was rather horribly misused, ending up as a lower midcarder holding the Hardcore Title. About this time, Brock Lesnar had pretty much obliterated his way to the World Title. Deciding to make Show the next challenger for the belt, WWE bookers just cooked something or other up about "don't wake the sleeping giant", basically saying that the reason Show had been so low on the cards was that he hadn't been trying very hard to do otherwise.
  • Macaela Mercedes had a less than decisive victory over Phoenix for the Glory Championship trophy in The Apocalypse Wrestling Federation, as she hadn't gotten over the flu (she avoided being pinned, did not submit and was awarded the trophy by decision after the match became a stalemate). This later led a healthy Macaela Mercedes to become unusually aggressive in an effort to prove she deserved it.
  • CM Punk stresses that you wXw fans shouldn't believe everything you read! He only lost to Chris Hero once and that was only because Punk had a 114 degree fevernote  and the gout!
  • Her feud with Nikki Roxx and Rain in WSU and participation in New Horizon Pro Wrestling's Hardcore revival left Mercedes Martinez worse for wear. Before these events she had managed to fight off both Jessicka Havok and Hailey Hatred in National Wrestling Superstars. After these took place she could barely fight Hailey Hatred one on one at an American Championship Entertainment show.
  • Steve Corino doesn't like to make excuses, but he only lost to Bruce Santee because he had just gotten off a flight and he didn't get to sleep because his hotel didn't check him in until 4 o'clock, reducing his wrestling ability to 90%. Also, he was scared of Kevin Sullivan, bringing it down to 85.
  • Trish Stratus of all people had an instance of this (she was normally booked as an underdog). WWE had just lost their planned top face Lita to a broken neck but weren't ready to put Trish over as champion again. So in a match against Jazz, they had Molly Holly come out before Jazz, attack Trish and whip her into the ring steps. As a result her submission loss to Jazz made her look less weak.
  • Beth Phoenix suffered a real-life torn ACL and thus had to drop her Women's Championship. How to get the title off her without making the Glamazon look weak? Put her in a handicap match against LayCool, and have Layla pin her only after her injury gets aggravated.
  • When Jazz was first challenging for the Women's Championship in 2002, they made a point of showing her as a powerhouse, with Trish Stratus able to get sneaky moves in between. Jazz also has a moment where she does have Trish down for a three count, but Jacqueline was the referee, who had lost a match to give Jazz the #1 contendership, and thus was a bit biased and not inclined to count faster. Trish managed to pin Jazz with a bulldog that she immediately got up from, also indicating that she was caught off guard for one moment.
  • Again when Beth Phoenix was challenging Kelly Kelly for the Divas' Championship. Kelly's first successful defence over her was a sneaky roll-up that was framed as Beth underestimating Kelly being a Combat Pragmatist. The second was given a Hand Wave by saying that Beth may have felt under pressure due to wrestling in her home town.
  • The Hardy Boyz' first Tag Team Championship reign came about when they defeated The Acolytes. In the lead-up to the match, The Hardyz were billed as 'Cinderella' challengers who'd need a miracle to defeat the Acolytes. The Sunday Night Heat before the Monday Night Raw the title match was to take place on, Bradshaw took a tombstone piledriver from Kane on the ring stairs. Bradshaw wasn't cleared to wrestle but the Acolytes stormed the ring and attacked the Hardyz, causing the match to take place. The Hardyz eventually pinned Bradshaw after a Tornado DDT, utilizing his injury instead of one of their usual finishers.
  • World Class Championship Wrestling once announced that Kerry Von Erich was wrestling Ric Flair with a fever and against doctor's orders. This was the Kayfabe explanation, for Kerry was allegedly under the influence of a controlled substance and in no condition to perform correctly.
  • When Kris Statlander defeated Jade Cargill to become All Elite Wrestling's second TBS Champion in May 2023, she successfully managed to end Jade's 60-match undefeated streak—and the longest championship reign in AEW history up to that point—in a Squash Match that lasted less than a minute. Notably, though, Statlander was a surprise challenger who accepted an open challenge invitation (issued on Jade's behalf by her manager "Smart Mark" Sterling against her will) immediately after Jade had finished a much longer match against Taya Valkyrie, leaving her battered and exhausted.

  • Used as an excuse so many times, especially when it's a massive upset or a loss that is much more lopsided than anticipated. It may or may not involve home court/field/ice advantage and it frequently involves injury and/or fatigue.
  • When your [insert favorite team] in [insert sport here] loses a game.
  • The New Zealand All Blacks were favourites going into 1995 Rugby World Cup. South Africa was the host nation, but they hadn't even participated in the previous two world cups due to The Apartheid Era. However, a few days before the two sides were due to meet at the final, All Blacks came down with a case of food poisoning. They decided against re-scheduling the final to keep it secret from the Springboks even though it got to a point where at least one player threw up on the sidelines, and they narrowly lost by a drop goal from the South Africans in extra time. There is a conspiracy theory involving a mysterious "Suzie" concerning this food poisoning, although most fans now believe the illness was unintentional.
  • A legend has Auburn University cadets greasing the rails before an opposing football team from Georgia Tech arrived, causing their train to slide past the station, and forcing the team to tire itself out walking back to the stadium.
  • Averted in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals between the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz, to this day thought of as "The Flu Game". According to The Other Wiki, Michael Jordan woke up the day before the game nauseated and sweating profusely. He was diagnosed with food poisoning. He barely had the strength to get up out of bed, and the Bulls trainers told him there was no way he could play in Game 5. The Bulls would be at a distinct disadvantage without their leader, because the Jazz had just won two straight games to even the series, and whoever won Game 5 would be one win away from the championship. But he rose out of bed three hours before tipoff, determined to play. And after a listless first quarter in which the Jazz ran off to a 16-point lead, MJ led the team back to a 90-88 victory, finishing with 38 points, seven rebounds, five assists, three steals and a block. And then his teammate Scottie Pippen helped carry him off the court.
  • Early in Super Bowl XXXIX, wide receiver Terrell Owens of the Philadelphia Eagles caught a pass from Donovan McNabb and had an open-field run to the end zone. Unfortunately for the Eagles, Owens was still recovering from a leg injury, allowing a defender to tackle him after a big play that would have probably been a touchdown had he been healthy. The Eagles proceeded to turn the ball over a few plays later and would eventually lose to the New England Patriots by 3 points.
  • Nearly every losing sports team ever. It can't always be the referees' fault.
    • In college football, a famous recent example would be Colt McCoy at his last Rose Bowl Game. The momentum of the entire game reversed suddenly — all because McCoy got tackled by a nearly 400-pound man early in the game, taking him out of the game. It wasn't even an especially brutal hit, but the physics somehow left his arm with no sensation whatsoever. He didn't feel any pain and his arm hadn't suffered serious injury, but he couldn't feel the football contacting his palm and fingers and thus couldn't make accurate throws. Truly a bizarre moment in sports as a QB had never before been knocked out of an entire Super Bowl or BCS Title game before, much less on such an unusual injury.
    • Two NBA examples: The San Antonio Spurs in 2000 and the Boston Celtics in 2009 were defending champions but late in the year lost their best player (Tim Duncan for the Spurs, Kevin Garnett for the Celtics) for the entire playoffs and suffered an early playoff exit to an otherwise inferior team.
      • There is an argument to be made about the Detroit Pistons beating the 1989 "Showtime" Los Angeles Lakers team because of this, as well as the 2019 Toronto Raptors beating a Golden State Warriors team missing two of their three best players. That same Raptors team probably wouldn't even have made the finals if the Philadelphia 76ers' star center Joel Embiid hadn't been suffering from a virus throughout the series.
    • Oddly enough, at least in the US, defeats are always blamed on this while victories are credited to divine intervention. The reverse is almost never the case.
  • Mike Tyson's defeat against Buster Douglas is in no small part the result of him expecting another half-round knock out and thus coming in unprepared. To be fair to Tyson, Douglas was much older and nearing his retirement, to the point Douglas himself initially expected to lose and prepared to retire after that fight, only for Douglas' mother to die shortly before the fight, driving him to fight with much more skill and determination he had ever done, resulting in a long drawn fight that still nearly saw Tyson winning before his eventual defeat.
  • This was arguably the case for the entire 2021 season for the Cleveland Browns after quarterback Baker Mayfield suffered a partially torn labrum (an injury that can only be corrected with a surgery that would have been season-ending) in his non-throwing shoulder in the team's home opener, as Mayfield would notably regress in his passing in that season compared to his breakout 2020 season, which in turn led to a regression for the team as a whole. While some believe that this down season speaks to Mayfield as being perpetually inconsistent, Mayfield's defenders have been quick to point out that he was clearly hampered in his mechanics by both the injury itself as well as the protective equipment he had to wear to prevent further damage.
  • The problem of course is that so much of sports championships are based on luck and injuries are prevalent enough in pro leagues these days that nearly every modern championship loss could be blamed to some degree on this.
  • A literal football/soccer example of this trope happened in the Russian Premier League on June 19, 2020, when relegation-threatened PFC Sochi annihilated FC Rostov, then pushing for a UEFA Champions League place, 10–1. It just so happened that this was the first match for both teams after the league's three-month COVID-19 hiatus, and two days before the match, six of Rostov's first team tested positive for the virus. This in turn forced the entire first-team squad and staff into a 2-week quarantine. Sochi was insistent on playing the fixture, placing Rostov in a bind—league regulations also mandate that a team forfeiting two matches during the season is automatically expelled from the top flight. Rostov's solution was to have their 17-and-under team play the match. (This was possible because while Russia's pro leagues restarted, the age-group leagues had yet to do so.) Rostov's kids actually opened the scoring, but it was downhill from there. Nonetheless, the league named Rostov's goalkeeper the man of the match... while he did let in 10 goals, he also set a new league record with 15 saves, including one penalty. And may we add, this was a 17-year-old who hadn't trained in three months trying to hold his own against older professionals who had been back in training. One of Sochi's players went on Instagram to praise the Rostov youngsters' effort.
  • This is likely at least part of the reason why a promising Buffalo Bills team faltered in the 2022 playoffs, barely beating a Miami Dolphins team that was starting their third-string quarterback in the Wild Card and then getting dominated by the Cincinnati Bengals in the divisional round. Not only were they down several major impact players, particularly on the defense (namely Von Miller and Micah Hyde), but those playoff games also happened a scant few weeks after the Bills watched one of their teammates, safety Damar Hamlin, almost die on the field, and they'd had precious little time to process the trauma of the event as they tried to keep up with a rigorous game schedule. Members of the team later admitted that they were emotionally exhausted and "out of gas" by the time they got to the divisional round, leaving them unable to put up much of a fight against a powerful Bengals team.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Sanguinius of Warhammer 40,000 was often regarded as the most technically brilliant fighter among the Primarchs. But even he was not immune to fatigue. His sheer exhaustion from the Siege Of Terra (In addition to fighting Angron to a draw) led to his defeat at the hands of Horus. At full strength, it's highly likely Horus would have been slain then and there.
    • The Emperor himself, in the same battle, actually. It's shown that he can (and ultimately did) defeat Horus with a single strike. However, on top of being badly drained from sealing the collapsed Imperial Webway Gate for months while fighting off Daemon and Traitor forces, The Emperor felt like Horus could be redeemed and held back from attacking at all until almost dying from the many mortal wounds Horus had inflicted on him.
  • In Warhammer, the main reason Alcadizaar was able to defeat Nagash is because the great necromancer was still recovering from the heavy fatigue that had come from just cast one of the most epic spells of all time.
  • Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition: This is used as an excuse to have player characters fight and defeat one of the gods without breaking the rule that gods are too powerful even for maximum level characters — whenever this happens and it wouldn't make sense for the party to be Fighting a Shadow, the god in question is doing something so powerful it consumes most of their power, forcing them into a state where they can be physically defeated.
    • Icewind Dale Rime Ofthe Frostmaiden: Auril, lesser goddess of frost, has lost a large chunk of her power when fellow Gods of Fury turned against her. To regain it she expends whatever is left to force Icewind Dale, a huge area, into a state of perpetual winter night, but in the process she was forced to take physical form, in which she can be fought and beaten.
    • Vecna the Eve of Ruin Vecna himself, once the party faces him, invests pretty much all his divine power in a ritual to rewrite The Multiverse — a process so tasking, he is forced to revert to the form and statblock he had before ascending to godhood, meaning he can finally be directly fought.

    Visual Novels 
  • Fate/stay night has a lot of examples, since the very powerful characters it likes introducing need to be challenged somehow.
    • Archer is definitely one of the strongest Servants in the story, something apparent after he reveals the true nature of his Noble Phantasm, but he often ends up handicapped one way or another across all three routes.
      • Fate route: At the start of the route Archer is surprised and grievously wounded by Saber, who he was unwilling to fight, before getting thrown against Berserker, who he legitimately couldn't beat, and refusing to hurt his Master Illya, who he was also unwilling to fight.
      • Unlimited Blade Works route: Archer spends most of his time trying to manipulate events rather than fighting (on two occasions he does fight, his enemy runs away after one attack, and when he goes up against Lancer, Lancer is also not holding anything back and clearly has the advantage the entire time). After this, he is cut off from his source of mana and then uses his true Noble Phantasm that requires a massive input of mana to maintain for a short period of time, which causes his power to fade until he's only keeping his body together through sheer willpower.
      • Heaven's Feel route: Archer is wounded by Saber as in the Fate route, then is forced to fight in poor conditions and exposed to attacks which ignore his usual defenses.
    • Explicitly called out with regards to Lancer in the Unlimited Blade Works route. In all routes, he ties with Archer and loses to Saber; in Fate and Heaven's Feel, he doesn't get many more scenes after that, but when he and Archer fight again in Unlimited Blade Works he easily defeats Archer, having explained that he'd been ordered to lose the previous two fights, and Archer only survives because Lancer figures out what he's doing and chooses not to kill him. That being said, Archer was also just trying to stall for time.
    • Rider spends all of the first two routes with a poor source of mana, which causes her to go down very easily. After Heaven's Feel fixes this problem, she demonstrates just how deadly she can be.
    • In all routes, Saber starts out being improperly summoned by someone who can barely use magic, so she has an incomplete connection to his mana and therefore has to recharge herself very often with large amounts of sleep and food, even if she uses only a little bit of her power. This is exacerbated by the fact that she took a cursed, slow-healing stab close to the heart soon after being summoned. It also doesn't help that, due to worries that Shirou's lack of mage skill would leave him open to mind magics, she doesn't let him know her true identity and holds off on using her Noble Phantasm even more than any other Servant. And of course, her Master being unwilling to risk her life if he can avoid it and being unwilling to fight as ruthlessly as possible is a pretty hefty handicap for a Servant of the Grail War as well, even though she herself isn't really all that much more ruthless than he is (especially compared to all the non Rin and Good Sakura Masters). The other Servants aren't pushovers by any stretch of the word, but as the two times she got a competent mage as a master showed, there is a REASON she's considered the strongest class. And even when she does get a competent Master, she still technically has the Flu because she never has access to her final and strongest Noble Phantasm that gives her a Healing Factor and effective Complete Immorality except, ironically, in the one route where she's still with Shirou.
    • Similarly, in Fate/Zero, Saber has her left hand crippled by Lancer early on, preventing her from fighting at full strength and from using Excalibur for a while.
    • The Fate/stay night Worf character, Berserker, has this arguably crippling him in UBW and definitely doing so in HF. In UBW, he's hampered in his fight against Gilgamesh because he's shielding Ilya as well. In HF, he gets hit by a gamebreaker ability he can't actually fight against and is turned into Dark Berserker before he can truly fight. While in Dark Berserker form, the fact that he is killed nine times by the same attack comes from the fact that he's pretty much gone blind from the corruption. And while the Berserker class amps his already legendary strength and speed, it leaves him unable to use any of his skills or non-auto Noble Phantasms, instead fighting almost purely on instinct, reflex and power — formidable, but not as deadly as he would be in a standard class.
    • And the other Archer Gilgamesh, is the most powerful character by far, and could stomp just about anyone, thanks to being the first and oldest hero in a 'verse where Older Is Better. Unfortunately, his ego is so unfathomably massive that he refuses to fight seriously, or even bother to fight much at all, he just stands around while using his Gate Of Babylon to sword-spam things into nonexistence. He dies every route due to underestimating his enemies and getting manhandled because of it. In two of the three routes, he doesn't even bother wearing his Armor of Invincibility despite fighting opponents that just maimed him.
  • Arcuied is operating far below her normal power in Tsukihime, as she is still recovering from Shiki slicing her into pieces, and has to devote almost all her strength to suppressing her bloodlust. This is probably a good thing for the sake of the plot, though, as with access to her full abilities, she has Story-Breaker Power and would curb stomp everyone in about ten seconds flat. And in Ciel's route, where she does gain back some of her power, it's not a good thing.
  • In Zero Time Dilemma, AkaneThe Chessmaster who's been manipulating everyone for the past two games — is significantly less confident and capable because 1), she walked into a trap (for very good reasons) set by her nemesis, whose powers specifically counter hers, 2) she couldn't predict this Game's potential outcomes and therefore didn't have years beforehand to plan for every eventuality, 3) she can't escape the trap without either abandoning her goal of preventing the apocalypse or getting into a situation just as dangerous, 4) her short-term memory is erased every 90 minutes, and 5) she could die at any moment, solely on the whim of a crazed seemingly Omnicidal Maniac who wants to torture her. The upshot of this is that Akane's expression when she learns that said maniac anticipated her usage of esper abilities to cheat him is hilarious.

    Web Animation 
  • Dragon Ball Deliverance:
    • Before Gohan could even do anything to Daiko after he transformed into Super Saiyan 4, he ends up succumbing to a poison that Daiko put in him earlier in their fight.
    • The only reason Daiko was able to easily subdue Vegeta was because the Saiyan Prince was completely drained from his previous fight with Broly, having just expended all his energy to end the bout as quickly as he could.
  • Red vs. Blue: In the finale of The Revelation, the Reds and Blues manage to kill the Meta, a berserk Freelancer armed with numerous game-breaking weapons he had stolen from other Freelancers. Later, in Season 13, when Locus and the Counselor discuss it, the Counselor points out that a) the Reds and Blues outnumbered him badly, and b) the Meta had lost all of the A.I. that ran his equipment back in Reconstruction, including Sigma, who was the actual brains of the operation, and was making do with just one unit. The Meta had also just won a fight with Tex right beforehand, and she had landed some pretty major hits, though the Counselor probably didn't know this.
    • And speaking of Tex, the second-to-last episode of the Recollection trilogy reveals that the reason she never came through in the clutch despite being the strongest fighter on the heroes' side is that she's an A.I. fragment based off the Director's memories of his wife Allison. Allison died in combat, so what the Director remembers most clearly about her is her failure. Tex's existence is defined by this perception, so she's essentially cursed to fail at the last minute, no matter how badass she is before.
  • Helluva Boss:
    • Millie is extremely capable in close-quarters combat, and is able to kill a mutated fish monster that's several stories tall while armed only with a knife. However, while she gets a few decent hits in during her fight with Striker, he ends up winning the fight once he recovers from his surprise. This is explained by the fact that Millie was Blinded by Rage when she walked in on Striker strangling her husband Moxxie and got sloppy. Striker, being a skilled fighter, was able to take advantage of her emotional state and incapacitate her.
    • Stolas is immensely powerful, as seen in Loo Loo Land when petrified an imp with a stare, and Truth Seekers which showed off his One-Winged Angel form for the first time. Western Energy, however, sees him in Striker's mercy due to blessed rope negating his powers.
  • RWBY: When investigating the White Fang at Mountain Glenn, Ruby is easily captured after she loses her scythe falling down a sinkhole in the abandoned town. Her punches have little impact on her captors and, while she's normally willing to challenge Roman to fight when she has her weapon, without it she concentrates on trying to escape him. She has to be found by her team and reunited with her weapon before she can successfully fight back. In flashbacks, Yang has unsuccessfully tried to get her to address her inability to fight without her weapon but she doesn't make a serious attempt to correct this weakness until Professor Ozpin confronts her about it in Volume 5.

  • Girl Genius had Gilgamesh beat Vole, a big Jägermonster. But then, Gil was ranting "in the place of madness" and Vole didn't really want to injure the heir of his boss. So, later they had a rematch without such limitations.
  • Lone: Lone struggling against a single Weaver in Season 2 might seem unrealistic given how powerful she was at that point, until Bel points out that she's just been through an interdimensional portal (which tires the user out a great deal), and still hasn't fully recovered from the battle against the twins.
  • In Nuzlocke Comics, Bruce is Ruby's strongest Pokemon throughout the Kanto region. However, when he gets into a fight with Ghetsis' Hydreigon, he is pushing 60 and hasn't been actively battling in 20 years. It ends disastrously for him.
  • The Order of the Stick
    • Knight Templar Miko singlehandedly defeats the Order of the Stick to drag them in chains to Azure City. Later, after Miko kills Lord Shojo, Roy knocks her flat fairly easily, and mentions that this time, besides Miko having Fallen, Roy was using his Ancestral Weapon (which had been upgraded immensely) and not a stupid club. Also, Word of God says that the reason her clothing turned grey was because many of her magic items only worked on Paladins in good standing, which she was not at the time.
    • Durkon rationalizes that the rain that prohibited the team from working effectively the first time they battled Miko was a divine sign that they weren't going to win this one. However, she did beat them a second time without the rain slowing the party down (although this fight was off-panel, and Durkon didn't appear to participate in it either). Roy's comment, "Stupid railroad plot," lampshades this nicely.
  • In Sailor Moon Cosmos Arc the reason the senshi struggled so much against Servant Chaos was because their powers had stagnated due to not using them in three millenia. And, technically speaking, they never even fought in this incarnation, so they weren't even sure they could transform at first. Granted, given that Servant Chaos was also possessing Hotaru and brainwashed Chibiusa and Endymion, it's unlikely they'd have given it their all anyway, even if they were at full power.
  • In one Sluggy Freelance strip Zoe kicked resident Killer Rabbit Bun-Bun through a wall. When Zoe brings this up years later to try and intimidate Bun-Bun, he responds, "That was then, and you were half naked. Let's rock."

    Web Original 
  • A version of this occurs in "Have Yourself a Monkey Little Christmas" in the Whateley Universe. Chaka is put in significant danger during a fight because she'd just had her hips broken and reset! This is also a Chekhov's Gun, as the need was stated around her first appearance! She does in fact win the fight, thanks to Chou's healing abilities.
    • Yet again, Fey's infamous fight against Mule is revealed to include a good bit of Flu. Fey fought her in an arena where she couldn't draw upon her powers. In fact, she was put in there specifically because the administration heard her say "But I can't do a fight in there! The Ley Lines are so tangled that I'll hardly be able to do anything!" Furthermore, her foe can absorb her magical abilities. What follows is a rather fun run-and-gun.

    Real Life 
  • Napoleon's defeats:
    • The suggestion is often made that the French lost the battle at Waterloo only because Napoleon was ill with piles (or some other complaint). There's a Voltaire short story called Lord Chesterfield's Ears that's based on this sort of idea. In the same battle, Ney's ill-conceived attacks against prepared infantry positions and infamous failure to bring the spikes necessary to disable the British cannon batteries after capturing them (thus allowing the British to retake the cannons intact and resume fire with minimal delay) has been blamed on post-traumatic stress disorder from his leadership of the rearguard during the disastrous withdrawal from Russia.
    • The Battle of Borodino, the turning point toward a Russian repulsion of Napoleon's invasion, was lost (according to some historians) because "Napoleon had a cold." Leo Tolstoy says of this that that means "the adjutant who forgot to give Napoleon his waterproof boots [two days earlier] was the savior of Russia."
  • The Norwegian Constituent Assembly storyline ended with Sweden taking over Norway during the fall of 1814. The King Elect of Norway, Christian Frederick, had to lay down his executive power, to formally end the strife, and let the Norwegian parliament (and government) settle matters with Sweden. The Convention at Moss, written August 14 1814, has a "secret addition" stating that Christian should "find an excuse" for giving up sovereignty. Hence, this trope came into effect, and Worf had the flu all the way from the middle of August until he left quietly in October. Officially, he was sick, but although suffering from fits of depression, he invoked this trope.
  • During the 2012 US presidential election, President Obama seemed extremely tired during the first presidential debate between himself and his Republican opponent Mitt Romney, who many thought dominated the debate. Al Gore suggested that it was because of the altitude of Denver, the debate venue.
  • In The Prince, Machiavelli says that Cesare Borgia revealed to him that his multiple enemies managed to defeat him only because he was seriously sick when they did it.
  • The Sassanid Empire fell to the Arabs because of this trope. Before the rise of Islam, Persia was an regional power with their emperor Shapur II winning a decisive campaign against several Arab nomadic tribes in 325 A.D. However, a series of conflicts with the Eastern Roman Empire had weakened it over the decades. By the time of Muhammad, the Persians and Romans were engaged in a war that lasted nearly 30 years and no substantial gains were being made for either side. When both empires were too exhausted to continue fighting and decided to call it quits, a civil war erupted in Persia which left it completely vulnerable to the rising Caliphate.
  • Robert E. Lee had heart problems, and some historians and doctors have argued that he was suffering from the effects of a heart attack at the Battle of Gettysburg during The American Civil War. This could explain the less-than-stellar decisions he made during the battle, especially Pickett's Charge. Though other historians dispute this, as Lee had a history of making rash decisions during battles and Gettysburg was just the first time that one hadn't paid off for him because he was fighting someone other than George McClellan, who was infamous for being possibly the worst wartime general in US history—and certainly the most over-cautious. (The common line about McClellan is that all his strategies were brilliant if you assumed that his opposing force was three times the size it actually was.)